7 am, Wednesday – the 34th hour
I wake up on Day Two of my train journey to Bangalore, my first Indian train ride, which is scheduled to be a 39 hour journey. The train is way late, but I don’t seem to care. I’m on the train and that’s all that matters. I slept well for a second night in a row. I get out of my bunk before Ved and Raj pull their tan, train-provided blankets off their heads …
“chai chai chai chai … CHAI … coffee coffee coffee CHAI …”
Yeah, I can’t sleep through that. Anyway, I brush my teeth and clean up … er … the best … well, minimally … and proceed with my culinary plan.
See: from the beginning, I knew that Day One would be the day of the bananas and Day Two would be filled with orange delight. I ate the number of tennis ball-sized oranges that I imagine Andre Agassi would use to warm up on his day off – a sensible and respectable breakfast as I remember the negotiations I went through to get them. It was starting to be a good day and the rush to get to the Train two nights before has already started to fade. I am well on my way toward a new phase of my India Project, and the only thing for me to do was to continue reading Fantastic Voyage, by Issac Asimov.
1 pm, Wednesday – the 40th hour
Fantastic Voyage is the story of five people getting shrunk down to microscopic level to enter a patient’s body to perform life saving surgery as the geopolitical balance of power hangs over a precipice, and – you guessed it – that balance hinges on the technology of miniaturization, itself, and which side can make it permanent and de-miniaturize at will, which, as of now, our side can’t but their side … well … just maybe. See: miniaturization, according to the story, has a limit of smallness (which the crew is at), but will wear off in an hour; so, they not only have to complete the surgery, or the patient dies, but also get out of the patient’s body before they grow back to normal size, or, again, the patient dies. And, have you guessed it, yet? The patient they are trying to save is a scientist from their side who holds the secret to controlled de-miniaturization, but he is unconscious with a blood clot in the brain and can’t reveal his scientific knowledge! This is pure excitement. Of course, you can understand that if one side has the power to de-miniaturize at will, they have a distinct advantage, like they could fit an army of a million men and their equipment and provisions into a snuff box and … well … transport them anywhere undetected, and you can take the implications from there … like de-miniaturizing them in the middle of enemy territory etc … it is an arms race … with the threat of the worst parts of the bible coming true … Anyway …
Because of problems right when they entered the body, the eclectic group of miniaturized explorers cum surgeons were running out of air – miniaturized air, that is! (They obviously can’t breath air that you and I breath, duh. That’s why they miniaturized a submarine, along with its oxygen tanks, for them to travel in) – and had to make an emergency stop in a capillary right by a lung. The plan was to exit the submarine, cut into the lung and push in a tube that would then suck in air as they miniaturized it. This would give them the necessary oxygen so they could travel to the head and cut away the blood clot in the brain and save the scientist so our side could then get the secrets of controlled miniaturization and balance our technological deficit.
But, wait, there’s even more excitement: You may be wondering that if they are already miniaturized then how are they going to get full-sized air molecules and make them small enough for them to breath? The answer: they had a miniaturizer ray-gun miniaturized with them! This is awesome!
A discursive thought: One of the caveats to this story is that the miniaturization can only go so far with the shrinking, and the group of 5 is already at that limit, but since they miniaturized a miniaturizer, what would stop them from miniaturizing themselves … again! Then, they could miniaturize another miniaturizer and take themselves down even smaller! In fact, what would prevent them from shrinking more and more of these ray-guns and send them and themselves down the line into smaller and smaller realms, creating an infinite regress of smallness! (Remember: I < 3 infinity!) What would happen then? Would you just go smaller and smaller where an Hydrogen Atom became the size of the Sun, the size of the known Universe?!?! Issac Asimov dismisses this point by saying you just can’t, which helped him shorten the book I’m sure and stay to the point, because it has nothing to do with saving the scientist, waking him up from a coma and find out his secrets, but it is something I immediately thought of. Why?
because it’s fun …
… and this blog is about curiosity and so I share it with you, as promised. So, forgetting for a moment that further miniaturization is not possible and Issac dismisses this point, what would stop them? If you thought: “Well, Planck’s constant would stop them.” Yes. That’s my answer, too!
However, neither this geopolitical tension, nor the implied infinite regress of smallness is why this story is such an appropriate, fortunate and albeit random choice for me. I found Asimov’s descriptions of what the universe would look like at the microscopic scale fascinating – capillary walls yards thick (relative to the shrunken person, that is), surface tension of water that will hardly budge, boulder-sized debris in the lungs, a slowing of time and a vibrating, graininess of the new, enlarged universe because you begin to make out the wave patterns of moving electrons and the particle properties of atoms, all of which looks hazy due to their mercurial nature and the relative largeness of the light you are using to see. Wow, and that’s more fun than any infinite regress or political brinksmanship, and I don’t mind saying that this may be a relevant pointer for me and for where I go next and what I do … but I digress.
One thought I had to come to India was to push the idea of breaking stone to the very big and the super small. Of course, I won’t be able to push it to the astronomical and microscopic – that would be something else – but I love thinking about it; and, besides, the quantum world versus the cosmic world is a boundary, a horizon line, of knowledge of our current scientific thinking and where many of the relevant questions are. How it plays out in my field of sculpture? I don’t know. It may not … I don’t have to worry about it now, because now I just play.
7 pm, Wednesday – the 46th hour
We stop at Chennai, a major East Coast Southern City.
In 6 to 7 hours, heading due west, the train
should make its final stop – Bangalore
and where I need to be.
Ved goes: “Come on let’s get some coffee …”
I guess we will be at this station for a while, so I follow.
We exit and it feels so good to get outside.
It is dusk and much warmer and stickier
and you can taste and feel the ocean
with each breath.
We walk a long, long way down the track. Nothing seems to be open, but people are everywhere.
We head towards the main station, and it is the first time
I notice how incredibly long the train is.
We turn off our platform and towards the station.
“Hey, Ved, we are walking far from the train … uh … how will we know if it leaves?”
“Don’t worry we have time.”
We are on the edge of the main station and there is a kiosk of sorts… and the only word that comes to mind is “madness.”
I mean: so many people ordering food and drink and paying and moving to different areas to pay, order, get food,
parry left, baulk right … pushing, jockeying, positioning. I don’t know what I’m looking at and if I was alone,
I probably wouldn’t bother. I am amazed how Ved picks his opening and hardly waits to order.
The guys in the kiosk, serving, are working it. They are busy: slinging chai, rice, dosas, chips.
It’s a rush of madness
and somehow it flows,
it all works.
Ved orders, he pays, and
“Wait!? My turn …”
“No, No … I got it.”
I appreciate the gesture and put away my wallet and we move to another location to get the drinks.
I think: “Yeah, I would have had no idea to move to this location to get our order …”
Once again, it tastes great to get a hot drink.
We get back on the train and eat dinner.
With the help of Ved and Raj, we finish off my oranges.
They have a dinner they buy from the train.
I have pistachios and honey.
9 pm, Wednesday – the 48th hour
The train is moving and Bangalore is the last stop; so, there is nothing to do, but to sleep as much as we can.
I finished my Asimov book and switch off my reading light.
2 am, Thursday – the 53rd hour
Lights on and a sudden influx of Hindi I don’t understand. Finally, we arrive!
Speeding towards the conclusion: We exit the station,
and Ved points me toward the taxi stand.
We say our good-byes …
We wish each other well.
I have my list of Bangalore Hotels in my hand and now I need to find a taxi to take me to one of them.
3 am, Thursday – the 54th hour
Finally, I lay my head down on a hotel room pillow….
You may be wondering why it took me an hour from train station to hotel room pillow, especially when I tell you that the Hotel I checked into was blocks away from the train station. Well, I’ll save the full story for the book, but it includes taxi shenanigans, language barriers and the inability of a taxi driver to a read map, but his ability to ask for directions and the allusive Indian way of giving and getting directions – it’s a mystery to me and maybe more later – and … this part I’ll tell.
I finally get to the hotel. The lobby is deserted and only once the receptionist wakes up can I go through the ritual of checking in.
I think: “I just want to take a shower and lie down …”
I get into my room, sit on the bed, and breathe a sigh of relief that I actually made it, that I am now firmly on the path of finding Indian Granite to work with.
As I kick off my shoes and go to unzip my bag, a clear and unmistakable sound breaks the otherwise silent and sleeping city:
The bells, whistles, drums and all the wind instruments you can think of, erupt like a college marching band at an All-American Football game … I am on a high floor and it sounds like they are in my room! I listen amazed for a few minutes and even make some movements as if I am just going to move on and ignore it, and it goes on and on and on … then … out loud:
“Yeah, I can’t deal with this …”
You don’t have to …
I call the front desk.
“Yes, hello. I just checked in … and well … what’s the marching band doing practicing at 3 in the morning?!?”
“Oh that’s from the temple from across the street … “
“I’m guessing this happens every night …”
“Oh, yes, Sir. It does…”
“and probably more times through out the day …”
“and through out the night, again …”
He hesitates: “Uh … yes”
“Look. I just need to sleep. I’ve just traveled …”
He cuts me off: “Of course, of course. I’ll move you to the back of the hotel right away.”
It is this second room that I finally lie down to get some sleep for a few hours,
before I venture off on another journey to find the Stone Conference,
which is the whole reason I came to Bangalore
in the first place.
More later …